Have you ever winced while watching the theme song intro to the Simpsons and thought this goes on forever. Or maybe you haven’t but eventually will.
This year I came up with a thought. “You know I can probably make a guess about how long a show has been on the air by the length of its theme songs.” Remember Gilligan’s Island? They told a complete story in theirs. The same with the Beverly Hillbillies. But for more recent shows it seemed to me the intros were shorter. Indeed, some intro theme songs were so short I couldn’t remember them even after having seen every new episode for a minimum of a season. But when I did the research I remembered the very short theme songs.
Well let’s take a look at the list that I used. I chose only the shows that I watch so when checking the themes on YouTube, I would know from memory if the theme was complete. This was especially valuable for the Simpsons, because the theme can vary depending on the length of time used on its couch gag.
Unfortunately, you are going to know what shows I watch. And thus you are going to lose all respect for me. The first thing you’re going to notice is that I only watch sitcoms. I can’t stand watching hour longs where they take everything so seriously even though the show isn’t being very realistic. I know sitcoms are unrealistic, but I can view this unrealism as just a setup to the next joke.
The Simpsons : Theme song length 59 seconds
The Cleveland Show: 29 s
Family Guy: 32 s
American Dad: 33 s
How I Met Your Mother: 14 s
2 ½ Men: 23 s
The Big Bang Theory: 22 s
Modern Family: 10 s
Cougar Town: 6 s
Parks and Recreation: 32 s
The Office: 33 s
30 Rock: 19 s
South Park: 27 s
First of all, from this list you can tell there are two major outliers that go against the correlation I’m trying to show. The Cleveland show is new this year and its theme song is as long as those from many years ago. The other outlier is How I Met Your Mother. This show is a number of years old and yet its theme song is almost as short as this year’s brevity champs: Modern Family and Cougar Town.
First we’ll deal with The Cleveland Show. Largely it is brought to us by the same people who brought us Family Guy and American Dad. Note that the length of this theme song is almost identical to those two other shows. Despite my correlation of age of show to length of theme song, there is an even stronger correlation. Shows made by the same people as other shows have almost identical theme song lengths. This is true of 2 ½ Men and The Big Bang Theory; Parks and Recreation and The Office.
As for the outlier, How I Met Your Mother, we might just say that this show with its short theme song was the trailblazer that other, newer shows followed.
The rest of the shows roughly correlate age of show to length of theme song. To avoid the same people same length of theme song thing we can just take the earliest of those shows. Now we have a roughly straight line if we graphed our results.
When I started thinking about this topic I assumed the one outlier would be the theme from The Big Bang Theory. But the Bare Naked Ladies do this theme and the only song I know that squeezes in more words per second than a typical Ladies song is The End of the World as We Know It by REM. So by sheer wordiness I thought the theme song was longer than it really is.
No wonder I noticed this correlation this year. The ridiculously short theme songs of Modern Family and Cougar Town are a very big clue. Indeed these new themes are so short I don’t think they should be called songs. I vote instead for the name of theme riffs.